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Brutality, Repression and
Criminalization of a Generation
by Joe Fortunato, Green Party of New Jersey
Police brutality in the United States has clearly reached "epidemic" proportions. In fact, this epidemic analogy was used last year in a report by Amnesty International.
Statistics bear out the claim. Throughout the nineties, there have been sharply increasing levels of brutality complaints and reports of injuries and death at the hands of the police. One group, the Stolen Lives Project, an initiative of the October 22nd Coalition, the Anthony Baez Foundation and the National Lawyers Guild, has documented over two thousand recent cases of people who have been killed in encounters with police across the country. One aim of the Stolen Lives Project is to defeat the claim that police brutality incidents are merely isolated occurrences, which is usually the first line of defense from the authorities after a happening becomes impossible to ignore or deny.
To fully understand the epidemic, one must consider the economic crisis that the United States faces today. Although the stock market has recently been at an all-time high, the disparity in wealth between those at the highest levels in our society and those at the lowest levels has never been greater. Although a select few have been able to accumulate great wealth, a greater number of people than ever before are living in extrenme poverty. Moreover, downsizing, speed-ups at work and the decline in leisure time have brought greatly increased stress and misery to many who consider themselves part of the middle class. Against this backdrop, both the Clinton Administration and Congress have responded in the same way to the crisis: by eliminating or sharply curtailing welfare and other social "safety-net" programs.
...in order to respond to the systemic increase in poverty, disease and resulting crime, the power structure has unleashed its police forces to exert much greater control over the population.
Additionally, in order to respond to the systemic increase in poverty, disease and resulting crime, the power structure has unleashed its police forces to exert much greater control over the population. The so-called "war on drugs" is part of this repressive initiative. Along with draconian drug penalties and much harsher death penalty and juvenile jurisprudence, we are also experiencing the virtual elimination of the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, particularly in communities of color. Paramilitary forces such as the Street Crimes Unit in New York City, which was responsible for the death of Amadou Diallo (an unarmed and innocent West African immigrant who died in a hail of 41 police bullets), have become standard in police departments across the country. The right to privacy is also rapidly becoming a thing of the past, as the government places cameras in public places, even in bathrooms.
...we are also experiencing the virtual elimination of the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, particularly in communities of color.
The past few years have seen the epidemic of police brutality and racial profiling continue to spread and intensify. Hundreds of cases of people being shot, beaten or suffocated to death by police using excessive force have been documented. Thousands more suffered abuse in 1999 short of death. The scourge of police brutality hits hardest among Blacks, Latinos and other communities of color but also has spread into white communities, as economic conditions have become more worrisome.
In New Jersey, a growing movement to oppose police brutality, repression and the criminalization of a generation has developed over the last year and the Green Party has been in the middle of it, along with the Peoples Organization for Progress, a largely African-American organization based in Newark. The movement had its inception in response to the high profile New York cases of the torture of Abner Louima and the shooting of Amadou Diallo in the last year and a half. In addition, several instances of police brutality in New Jersey generated a response from local activists.
The movement gained strength throughout the year, particularly after public outrage grew in the wake of widespread reporting that the New Jersey State police have been engaging in a pattern and practice of racial profiling in our State over many years. In 1999, Governor Whitman was finally forced to admit that racial profiling has been occurring, after years of official denials. A Superior Court Judge found as fact that the State Police were engaging in the practice, and public outcry forced Whitman to order the State to drop its appeal of the Judge's decision.
Instances of police use of excessive force have also fueled the movement. In Orange, a suburb of Newark, an up and coming rap musician, Earl Faison, died in police custody less than an hour after mistakenly being taken into custody for the shooting death of an Orange police officer. After the police officer had been shot, the authorities responded with a terror campaign in which doors were broken down, innocent people were being stopped and harassed on the street and several Black men who "fit the description" (a Black man with a goatee) were taken into custody and assaulted. Earl Faison was one of these men. Although an attempt to cover up the causes of Earl Faison's death took place, continual public pressure by Peoples Organization for Progress (POP) and the Green Party, among others, made the circumstances impossible to ignore.
Hundreds of cases of people being shot, beaten or suffocated to death by police…have been documented.
The movement has also taken up the causes of justice for Max Antoine and Stanton Crew. Max is a young man who was severely beaten by Irvington police after they responded to a noise complaint at his sister's party. Max was beaten so badly that he is now blind in one eye and has had more than 20 operations to save his life. To add cruel insult to severe injury, Max was indicted and faces trial for assaulting the officers. The Green Party is also helping to mobilize opposition to this injustice.
In the Parsippany area, a large community response to the highway shooting death of Stanton Crew occurred in the Spring. Mr. Crew answered a call from a female friend, who happened to be white, requesting a ride home in the early morning hours. After picking up his friend, Mr. Crew noticed he was being followed by police and he sped away. The chase ended on a New Jersey highway with Stanton Crew losing his life in a hail of bullets. Once again, Greens responded, participating in organizing a twelve mile Long March for Justice for Crew, Faison and Antoine, and all victims of police brutality.
Today, more than 1.7 million people are in prisons across the country, most of them young, Black or Latino, and most in jail for non-violent offenses.
In addition, the movement opposes the criminalization of a generation. Today, more than 1.7 million people are in prisons across the country, most of them young, Black or Latino, and most in jail for non-violent offenses. The Clinton Administration and Congress have passed or are considering draconian criminal laws, which, among other things, expand the death penalty for minors and allow juveniles to be charged as adults more easily. An entire generation of youth is being treated like criminals based on their dress, their attitude and, often, on the color of their skin. In addition, today's prison statistics show that a greater percentage of people of color relative to their population as a whole are incarcerated than ever before, an even greater percentage than at the time Jim Crow laws were in effect in the South.
In New Jersey, as across the country, this atmosphere of repression has been met with increased resistance. Last December, a collection of groups and individuals, including the Green Party, met to form the New Jersey Coalition Against Police Brutality. This group, together with the POP, a largely African-American group, has led a high profile campaign of marches, rallies and vigils to bring some of the more egregious cases of police brutality in New Jersey to light. On October 22, as part of the National Day of Protest, these groups sponsored a march from the Orange, NJ city hall to the Orange police station, where Earl Faison lost his life while in police custody. An all-night vigil was held at the station, to highlight the case as well as the growing state-wide movement against police brutality.
In 1998, thousands of people in over 60 cities marched, rallied and wore black in protest. In 1999, with help from the Green Party and with our allies in POP and the New Jersey Coalition Against Police Brutality, New Jersey cities were added to the roster.
As Greens, we uphold the key values of non-violence and community. The issue of police brutality forces us to focus on how to apply these values to a real world social problem. We can and are developing a strategic response to police violence by developing a nonviolent resistance to police brutality, repression and the criminalization of a generation.
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